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Preschool bill passes House Education Committee

Scott Elliott

The Republican-dominated House Education Committee took the first step today to advance House Bill 1004, creating a preschool pilot program, approving it by a 10-3 vote.

The bill now goes to the full House for a floor vote, which likely will come next week. If it passes, the Senate Education Committee could consider as early as February.

The House is the friendlier legislative venue for preschool proposals. House Bill 1004 is co-authored by House Speaker Brian Bosma, R-Indianapolis, and House Education Committee Chairman Robert Behning, R-Indianapolis. Bosma also listed preschool as one of his top priorities for the session.

Much bipartisan support for the concept of state funded preschool was expressed at today’s committee hearing. Some Democrats and speakers during the public testimony period argued against a provision that makes participants in the program automatically eligible for Indiana’s K-12 private school voucher program.

A similar bill, setting aside $7 million to fund about 1,000 low income four-year-olds in five counties, passed the House last year 93-6. But when that bill went to the Senate Education Committee, Chairman Dennis Kruse, R-Auburn, said at the time there were only three of 12 committee members who favored it.

Instead, the committee completely redesigned the bill into a $2 million matching grant program, which was enacted in 2013.

What’s changed this year is the strong support of Republican Gov. Mike Pence, who has made instituting a state-funded preschool program one of the centerpieces of his 2014 legislative agenda. At today’s committee hearing, Behning made a point to tell Pence’s aide that he welcomed the governor’s strong support this year.

The question is whether the energy behind the bill from Pence and the House will change its fate. On Wednesday, Kruse said he detected no new enthusiasm for a similar bill in the Senate this year.

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